Sunday, July 31, 2016

Lex Anteinternet: Cognitive Disconnect on the left and right. Mark Shea and Moral Delusion.

 AGH photo, Jefferson Memorial.

I'm going to make my recent analysis on political discourse a bit sharper.  In doing so, I'm going to directly go into politics and religion, which I generally don't do in such a forward manner.  But here, in part because of the nature of what's referenced in this and my earlier post, and in part because it just cries out for it in this instance, I'm going to.

Recently I posted this item.
Lex Anteinternet: Cognitive Disconnect on the left and right.: This is one of those posts I started long, long ago, and then sort of let hang there for awhile.  A series of posts by a niche columnists c...
In that article, I mentioned
Expanding this out, once columnist I'm aware of is outright hostile to Donald Trump.  A lot of columnist are outright hostile to Donald Trump, that's fine, but this particular columnist is known only because he focus on religion in his writings and is known, therefore, as a religious columnist.  The irony here is that this particular person's faith holds extremely strong opinions on matters of life and death, and including the lives of those who have not yet been born, and by implicitly backing Hillary Clinton he's basically backing a candidate who is very obviously in favor of conduct that this religion holds to be a mortal sin.  What constitutes a mortal sin is not as simple as it may at first seem to be, to those who are not familiar with this in depth, in that it requires knowledge that the conduct is a mortal sin, but almost everyone who writes from that prospective well knows that the underlying conduct is a mortal sin which then raises the question of what arguing for the election of a person, implicitly, who supports conduct that's grave in nature and which is regarded as a mortal sin amounts too.  I'd hesitate to do that, if I were he.
I didn't name that columnist for a variety of reasons including, and I'll emphasize that here, I don't regularly read him and when I have, I tend to read only snippets of his.  But, given a recent column that I'd regard as a stunning example of poor logic, I'll change that policy here. The writer is Mark Shea, who posts on religious themed, and more particularly Catholic themed, items on Patheos and the National Catholic Register.

Shea is clearly in the political left, in my view, which does not mean he isn't a sincere Catholic.  It does raise serious questions however, that can't be lightly brushed off in 2016, even though they likely could have been, say, in 1966, or 1976.  And his recent backpedaling and intellectual disconnect in print doesn't hold water.  Shea, who had been vocal in his disdain for Trump, just posted the following item, which I'm breaking down in snippets, and using here under the Fair Use doctrine, to comment on it as its really a serious matter.

Now, let me start off with noting that even though I have abstained, or tried to abstain, from commenting on the current election, I can't really avoid doing so here, so I will.  I don't like either of the major party Presidential candidates and frankly, as I'll post soon, I'm not really very happy with the political parties themselves.  Indeed, I find myself doing something I never would have considered in prior years, I may very well vote for a third party candidate in an admitted protest.  If I do, I'll likely write in the candidates from the American Solidarity Party even though I know that they have no chance whatsoever of winning. So, perhaps ironically, Shea and I are in the same boat in regards to that.  He's going for a third party candidate as well (I'd wager the same one), and for similar, but certainly not identical, reasons.  So how can I criticize him? Well, I certainly can as his vociferous anti Trump writings fit into a very problematic category for somebody who is writing from a moral, i.e., religious, prospective.  He must have an inkling of that, given this surprising article, but we will delve into that a little more deeply in a second.

The article starts out:

Why I’m not Voting for Hillary

  . . . . in a single story
That story is that a speaker at the Democratic Convention came flat out and spoke about the termination of the infant life within her and what a good thing it was.  From the prospective of the Apostolic churches, of which the Catholic Church is one, and which Shea is a member of, and from whose prospective he claims to write, this is a mortal sin.  It's a serious matter that the Church has always opposed, indeed back to its very founding.  The Church forgives those who seek its forgiveness for committing it, so this is certainly not aimed at the women who do that, but the fact of the matter is that from a Catholic and Orthodox prospective this is a horrific thing to back which a Catholic politician at least cannot morally sanction.  Nor can Catholics, in the abstract, ignore it.

Shea tries to rationalize that away as follows:
But you have said you would vote for her if you lived in a swing state.

Because, as I have said a thousand times, I agree with Cardinal Ratzinger that, “When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.” Donald Trump abundantly supplies those proportionate reasons.

So the goal is to stop Trump, not to support the evils Hillary advocates, to which the link above provides eloquent testimony. So I would vote for her if I had to in order to stop him and I would still urge anybody living in a swing state to do so.

But I don’t have to because I live in ultra-violet Washington which will defeat Trump in our electoral college just fine without my vote. So I have the luxury of a protest vote against the both of them.

Only one of them can win and it must not be Trump. She is “wrong within normal parameters” as P.J. O’Rourke puts it. Trump is catastrophic.

Our children will curse us for our folly if he wins.
So, Shea maintains, and if you go back and read his articles you can see that he has consistently maintained, that Trump is such a moral abomination that his hideousness, from a moral prospective, overcome Clinton's support for killing the unborn and old.


That's completely in error and Shea, as a Catholic, ought to sit in the pew for a day and think about it.

Indeed, this is the very sort of logic which has caused the Democratic Party to go from a working man focused slightly left party to an effete urban upper class party that's obsessed with an upper middle class strata that's childless, bedroom obsessed, and at war with human nature.  The Democrats, it should be obvious, are as in deep of trouble as the GOP is, but the effective leadership the party has exhibited has proven to be capable of suppressing insurgents, as the nearly successful campaign of Bernie Sanders proved.

Now,  I don not mean to claim here that we have a campaign between a deeply evil person and a deeply moral one.  Not by any means. While some of my friends do indeed regard Hillary Clinton as evil, I see no evidence of it.  Rather, I regard the Hillary Clinton as deeply political, and I'm fairly confident that some of the positions she takes today she'd take the opposite of, if it suited her politically.  If there was a groundswell in favor of life issues, she'd come along (although over time there has in fact slowly been something like that).  She's very much in favor of gun control now (which I don't regard as being in the same moral category), but if it looked like that was going to tank the campaign, she wouldn't be.  Part of the problem that I have with the Clinton's, but only part (I'll get to the rest) is that they're so political that in an era of extreme politics I think they can be relied upon to be extreme, not necessarily because they believe it, but because that works to their advantage.

Trump is morally problematic, to be sure, but much of that is on a personal level.  His conduct in regards to his personal relationships with women certainly raises red flags, as he's been married three times and it isn't as if his wives haven't all had physical characteristics uniformly that would suggest his selection of them wasn't based at least a little on that.  Additionally, as the great G. K. Chesterton pointed out, as an extremely wealthy man he must have made choices in his business life that would be morally problematic by their very nature.  I don't admire him, on any level.  Indeed, I don't like him.

But, and this is what matters here, if we take the two candidates, and their party's respective positions, we are faced with the uncomfortable truth that highly competent Hillary Clinton backs positions that are morally bankrupt from a Catholic prospective.  Some would argue that Trumps are as well, and obviously Shea is arguing that, but in truth his positions fit into the peripheral areas of morality where devout Catholics are fully entitled to differ.  Indeed, if we wish to go one step further we are faced with the problem taht a lot of the problem folks like me have with Trump has to do with the extreme nature of the message in part, but also with the messenger, whom we just don't like or trust.

So, removing the personalities of the candidates and even removing the candidates themselves, what are we really left with?  With the Democrats, on what Catholics would regard as major moral issues we cannot avoid, the Democrats are in favor of death before birth at the election of one of the parents.  They are also in favor of allowing the killing of the old, which implicitly reduces their dignity.  They are also in favor of requiring the public at large to supply, through employers and insurance, health care for pharmaceuticals designed to arrest the natural result of private conduct. And they're also now in favor of pretending that natural marriage doesn't exist and that the only thing marriage is for, optimistically, is so that everyone can have a friend for life with which to share a bed.  Frankly, these positions are so contrary to the Catholic understanding of the world (and also contrary to the scientific nature of the world) that a Catholic could not, using the standard mentioned above, vote for a Democrat backing them unless the countering moral consideration was absolutely titanic.

And in this circumstance, given as part of the consideration obviously involves matters of life and death, that really must be what we are speaking about.  Unless Donald Trump supports genocide on a fairly massive scale there's no way that Shea's logic works.  In fact, quite the contrary is true.

On the matters that Trump has spoken about, which get into matters were morals may apply, he claims that he will appoint judges who actually grasp that there's a physical difference between men and women.  Catholics should support that.  In the past he's flip flopped on life issues prior to birth.  So he's problematic there.  I don't know what his position on death at the end of life is, so I don't know if he's problematic there.  So, again from a Catholic prospective, he's very far from perfect but not clearly as bad as Clinton on these issues.  There's a chance, in other words, of Catholic moral views on fundamentals doing better under Trump than Clinton.  There's no chance of them doing well under Clinton and quite the opposite is true.  On one issue, same gender marriage, he's stated that he'd support appointing judges who would reverse the judicial coup on this issue effected by the five justice ruiling on this issue.

Beyond that, from a general moral prospective, informed by a Catholic view, we have to keep in mind that while both candidates are morally problematic, they aren't in teh same ways.  Clinton would very clearly create a Supreme Court that would be the most socially radical we've ever seen.  The current make up of the geriatric, non elected, body already is confused about men and women. Younger baffled radicals would replace those dying or declining into senility or infirmity under Clinton's watch.  It would be a conservative, and moral, disaster.  Under Trump it's likely that conventional conservative jurist, with whom both political conservatives and liberals have been able to live, would be appointed.

A big issue that gets claimed to be a moral one has to do with the Trump "wall".  I know that this is a Trump position, and I feel its an absurd one, but I also feel that there's no earthly way it will happen. Congress would have to appropriate the funds for it, and its not going to.  That doesn't mean, however, that immigration wouldn't be an aspect of a Trump Presidency.

And here's that uncomfortable area where those who find Trump distasteful perhaps have to actually consider that he has a point on some things.

The entire idea about building a wall is absurd, and it does seem to pander to the worst instincts in human nature. But at the same time, the pandering has frankly been going on in the GOP now for a very longtime and then simply not acted on.  Underneath it all, prior to the malignant form it is now taking, there actually is a legitimate point, that being, how many people can one country take in?

Americans don't like to concede it, but the country is flirting with overpopulation right now.  Plenty of formerly very nice areas of the United States have become less than that due to increasing population.  The country cannot expand forever.  Recognizing that is not necessarily an immoral act.  Indeed, ironically, Americans now applaud the original native inhabitants of the land for that very thing. Reduced to its basic elements, much of the post 1865 Indian War drama centered around Indians resisting the invasion of European Americans onto treaty lands where they had no right to be.  In other words, the Indians were violently resisting illegal immigration, for which they have been celebrated and praised.  A country does not necessarily act immorally by determining that it will defend the interior of its country from illegal settlement.

Catholics who follow this closely will note that the Catholic Bishops in the United States have basically been in favor of an open border. But that sort of statement by the Bishops, while it must be taken seriously and weighted, does not amount to an absolute directive. This is an issue which Catholics can and do have a variety of opinions on.

The much more problematic aspect of this is the suggestion that some 11,000,000 people will be deported.  But that raises another moral question that has never been addressed by either party.  The voters suspect that this many illegal immigrants were able to enter the country in the first place as both parties were complicit in it.  That is, they believe that the Democrats never saw an illegal immigrant whom they did not figure was a future Democratic voter and the Republicans never saw an illegal immigrant whom they did not picture mowing the lawn.  If that's correct, and there appears to be some basis to believe that, there's the troubling fact that the parties have lied to the citizenry and conspired to defeat the law.  That would not justify committing a human tragedy however.  This is an area where most people, I think, are troubled by Trump's apparent policy, although they may not be so troubled as to not quietly support it.  At any rate, while uprooting 11,000,000 people, assuming that its even possible (and for this moral calculation you must) is a moral evil, it isn't a moral evil that outweighs killing that many or more, which from a Catholic prospective is what the alternative is.

Taking that a step further, some would note that Trump has stated that all Muslims should be banned for a time from entering the country, which has since apparently been modified into a ban based on geography (I have to think some advisor came up with that).  That is, Trump is now stating that, for example, the door should be closed to Syrians, and others from that region.  I've consistently maintained myself that while I'm favor of much reduced immigration into the United States, I am in favor of letting people displaced from the wars in the Middle East come in, so I don't agree on this. But I will note that just this past week James Comey, director of the FBI in New York, stated: “At some point there’s going to be a terrorist diaspora out of Syria like we’ve never seen before". 

Given that, while Trump's position strikes me as wrong and morally problematic, it doesn't seem completely irrational. What it is, is heavy handed.  It doesn't rise to the level of such a moral problem that people must apply the test that Pope Benedict set out and come to the conclusion that they must vote for Clinton to stop Trump.  Indeed, it wouldn't result in that result at all.  Indeed, now that a serving member of the Federal law enforcement community, serving the current Democratic President, has basically confirmed the fear that Trump's position is based on, Trump's proposed policy can be said to actually be rational.  Over the past year we've become very much aware that those from Islamic countries who have immigrated, and even those who have parents who were immigrants but who were born in Western countries, can indeed turn to violence.  The murder of a French priest and the truck mass killing in France before that provide very recent evidence. This doesn't mean that Trump is right, but it does mean that the position he has taken on this isn't based on facts.

War and peace also present moral issues, but the problem here is that almost nobody in the United States seems to realize that we actually are at war.  It's odd. The French Premier has stated on more than one occasion that France is at war.  France has its own problems, but being able to recognize when it is at war is not one of them. They're at war, Belgium is at war, and so are we.

That raises questions of how we're going to wage the war, but like many such questions, that's going to be determined here by our enemy more than us.  ISIL holds ground in Syria and Iraq, but they are loosing that ground steadily now.  They'll likely loose most of it or all of it by some date in 2018.  We're conducting operations there now in the form of air efforts and artillery support, while pretending that we're doing nothing.  Military strategist have debated how to go about this, and some Republicans suggested carpet bombing, but I don't know that Trump has suggested anything in particular.  The military debate is between boots on the ground as opposed to air and special operations, and somewhat of a mix has been used so far.  Chances are almost overwhelming that whomever is President will continue that.  Indeed President Obama has shown a distinct taste for drones and special operations and it is likely hat Clinton would continue that.  Chances are that Trump might go for a more conventional approach.

Other issues that every faces in their choice do not reach the moral level.  And we shouldn't pretend they do. That can be aggravating as there's a natural tendency to see things that way.  But they aren't. And that puts people in a difficult spot in the Fall.  Indeed, it tends to do that on a local level as well.  The past few cycles in Wyoming, for example, the Republican Party has swung more and more to the right with some real extremist running.  This year in the House race the candidates with the most rational policies on public lands here are Democrats.  Chances are the Democrats, for that reason, will do better than usual. But the Democrats here have become like the national Democrats and they never saw a social issue that they didn't fall of the left edge recently.  So, while voters like me would like to look at those Democrats who are opposed to the GOP's land schemes, we really can't, if we take the moral issues noted above to heart. 

That often places us where we don't want to go. But that's the nature of every moral decision in some ways. Morality isn't for convenience.  

Now, I'm not accusing Shea of going in this weird direction for convenience. But I am saying he's absolutely fooling himself if he thinks the balance of the moral scale means that a person living in a swing state must vote for Clinton to stop Trump.  On the contrary, like it or not, under the views we jointly hold, that person must vote for Trump.

What aggravates me, therefore, is that he's gone after Trump, and is a religion writer, and then suddenly back up to say that what the Democrats are saying here is reprehensible from a moral prospective, only to say that if he lived in a swing state he'd vote against Trump.  It's logically inconsistent and if a person is serious about the moral aspects of this dilemma the opposite conclusion would make a great deal more sense.

Of course personally he's off the hook he notes, in that in his state he can vote for a third party candidate and expect it to have no real impact on the election.  Well, that's fine, but you can't advocate for something, and he's done that repeatedly and strongly, and then claim that you aren't really for it.  He's urging people to take a certain act, and when you do that, you are morally culpable if they do it, and maybe you can't get off the hook so easily.  Saying "I'm not really for her" puts you in the same position as those 1932 German Christians who perhaps voted for Hitler because they felt that Ernst Thälmann would win if they didn't, except they actually had viable alternatives between the two which right now it appears we do not.  While I haven't read all of Shea's articles by any means, perhaps he has urged that some viable third party should rise up, or some insurgent candidate, and my comments would then be ill informed.  But, whatever he may have argued, at the end of the day, from a Catholic moral prospective, the argument that you must vote for Clinton to stop Trump doesn't hold water, and the opposite, as uncomfortable as that may be, is a much better moral argument.

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